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A Return Trip Through 80 Retailers’ Email Sign-Up Experiences

January 2, 2013 By Clint Kaiser
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Are inbox welcome experiences getting any better? That's what I wanted to find out by revisiting the retailers whose welcome programs I evaluated here approximately one year ago. Readers can scan that article for the methodology I used in evaluating the programs. At a high level, this is an assessment of the retail vertical welcome experience. The analysis is based on Internet Retailer's list of the top 500 online business-to-consumer retailers based on sales. 

I used the same set of retailers as last year, when 73 of the top 80 retailers evaluated had an email program available for sign-up. This year that number increased to 74 of the sample set, with two adding programs and one dropping theirs.

Improvements still necessary
A surprisingly high number of companies continue to skip the welcome (9 percent) or don't send any email at all (11 percent), in spite of permitting, even encouraging, email sign-ups. That's 15 major brands that aren't taking advantage of one of the most important phases of the subscriber lifecycle. I suspect that given welcome programs are often designed with a "set and forget" approach, there's no ongoing monitoring of these sends occurring. The brands may not even realize that emails aren't going out. Ouch. If you're in charge of automated sends, you should, at the very least, check periodically to ensure these emails are being sent consistently. Better yet, you should be tracking performance over time.   

Another big miss that changed little from last year was the subscription confirmation page. In 2011, 40 retailers offered a landing page that provided no clear direction or guidance on what to do next. While better in 2012, 33 companies didn't take advantage of this valuable real estate by offering very simple guidance either to "continue shopping" or "sign up for our other programs" (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

Deliverability improved
Inbox deliverability improved last year. In 2011, 9 percent of welcome emails ended up in my spam folder; this year that number was only 7 percent. 

I used a Gmail account for this research and monitored the number of welcomes that were flagged as "important" by Google (a feature of Priority Inbox I don't believe was in place in 2011). Twenty of the companies received the highly beneficial flag. It's hard to determine exactly what drove the prioritization, given these were first touches from each brand and I hadn't marked any prior emails as "important" from anyone. The most obvious difference was that typically if the subject line started with "welcome" it was given priority status, whereas if it began with "thank you" it didn't. 


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